The aroma of memories

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 3, 2007

There is something strangely powerful about this sense of smell we all possess. This invisible force has the uncanny ability to transport us out of this present reality and drop us somewhere in our past, if only for an instant.

It somehow resurrects a memory, reinvigorating some part of our brain we thought had long since deceased.

It can conjure up not just a single memory but a whole part of our existence.


- That October smell of a freshly dug peanut field. It floods the mind with the whole culture of peanuts. It arouses scenes of bright fall sunsets overlooking peanut combines over a dusty field as the dust settles just above the earth in wispy layers. It speaks of long hours and long trailers full of peanuts sitting in the field. To a farmer, it smells like the culmination of months of work and its rewards waiting to be harvested. And he loves that smell.

- The scent of horses. They possess a unique aroma peculiar to their species. To horse lovers, it invigorates their souls. It speaks of leather and sweat and saddles and bridles and stables and all things horses.

- The smell of particular houses. It seems all houses come to possess their own, unique aroma. The scent of your homeplace after a long absence can be overwhelming as your whole childhood rushes to meet you.

- A certain perfume or cologne. A single whiff can transport one back 30 years in an instant and you’re suddenly in the presence of that girl or guy who once had your heart.

- That new car smell. How we all love it! It speaks to us of something brand new that is spotless and clean and no dents and unused and quiet and everything works. But most of all, that smell is now ours.

- The smell of hogs. I know this is a strange one to many of you, but to those of us who enjoy working with this animal, this pungent odor can smell like roses.

- The smell of the ocean. There is something clean and refreshing about that salty aroma that seems married to the sand and the colors and the rhythmic ocean waves.

- Play-Doh. It can instantly make us ? no matter what age ? kids again.

- The smell of burning charcoal. Just riding by in a vehicle, its aroma can make one’s mouth water.

- Baby powder. I’m told mothers love this smell. For suddenly, their kids are young again.

Other than making eating that much more pleasurable, perhaps we were given this sense to remind us of who we are and where we came from, lest we forget that we do not just live in the present but are rather the summation of life’s experiences up to this point. That we are not divorced from our past but rather are tied to it, like long invisible ropes, that briefly become visible through the powerful aroma of memories.

Rex Alphin is a farmer, businessman and contributing columnist for The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is